What it's like to be fem in STEM? It's a wonderful, challenging, and fabulous.
Although I work with mostly males, I've never felt more empowered as a female in STEM. There is no better time than now to be a female. #feminist I have had my fair share of inappropriate Facebook messages from men; however, I ignore the inappropriate messages and address the content-related messages or appropriate portions of messages only. If men are outright disdainful, I block them. We have to remember some cultures think nothing of a message that says, "Hello beautiful, your STEM video on engineering in the modern classroom was so inspirational. I shared it with my female coworkers." To me, that message is simply a complement of my work and not a man targeting me for anything except a STEM inspiration. I do not address the "beautiful" complement but instead explain how glad I am that my video is inspiring others to bring engineering to more students. I discuss my work only, point blank end of story. I don't think there's a right or wrong way to address or deal with soliciting men, as long as you make your intentions clear. My mission is to bring STEM to more kids. Stick to your mission, and if people don't get the hint then drop them.
Beyond men hitting on me, I also deal with not being taken seriously. A HUGE key to overcoming the whole "your just a cute little woman" mentality is to get people on the phone or video chat. Verbal conversations rather than digital communication have helped men particularly understand my mission, my efforts, my intelligence, and my talents. My background is not in education but in the science field. I was actually recruited out of the science field by the NSF NOYCE STEM program. The program aims to recruit individuals with strong STEM backgrounds who otherwise would not have considered teaching as a career. That fun fact usually shocks people. Anyway, anyone can post a bunch of content online but being quick on your feet seems to gain you a whole new level of respect. I am a 5'2" tall blonde bubbly STEM woman, and I will remain true to myself. If someone can't get past me being a woman, I ditch them. Work with people who listen and respect you and leave everyone else in the dust.
Lastly, I have had a few men think I will do work for FREE for them...? I would hear I've got a guy I pay for xyz but I want you to do xyz for free, um HECK NO. If you pay a man for his work, you will pay me for mine or I will move on to another project. I've never had a woman ask me to work for free. On the other hand, I have some really great relationships with men in STEM who help me with certain aspects of my business and I return the favor. We happen to be a great match of differing talents. For me, my "NO" voice has been a game changer. I am not afraid to tell people no and I'm not afraid to exit a project that turns out to be different than originally presented. If you are talented, other options will come your way.
Now on to my positive experiences. As a female in STEM, I've developed some great relationships with female students who otherwise would not have been exposed to or interested in CAD, coding, robotics, engineering, and science data analysis. We are talking HUNDREDS of girls. Many of these young women are still in touch with me today and share their success stories. I just found out one of my STEM girls is headed to MIT next year to pursue a STEM degree. Another female student just informed me she has a 4.0 GPA in Biomedical Engineering currently. Her original plan was to major in HISTORY. My class changed her life by unveiling the world of STEM and allowing her to discover talents she did know she had. I've had many girls tell me things like, "I'm so glad you are teaching STEM, because Mr. Teacher just doesn't get me and I can't take his STEM class". For some girls, have a female STEM leader is the original spark of interest they need.
Not only have I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of female STEM students but also with females in the STEM field. If you have been following me for a while, I bet you've read a few post highlighting women in STEM. I also have worked with a female leading a VR development effort. She was originally a techie, has coauthored techie books, and is now applying technology in education working with gamers and programmers. I've also had the privilege to collaborate with several females across the STEM field via friendships developed both in person and on social media platforms. The diversity of female talent I get to tap in to is incredibly inspiring.
Now on to the juicy stuff- my relationships with males in STEM. First and foremost, my husband is an Engineering Director and plays a huge role in helping develop STEM materials. He has been a constant source of helping me understand how to use words and phrases that make my intention extremely clear to males in the corporate world. I learned the power of "technical talk". I also work with several male-owned STEM companies. These guys are great to work with. We bounce ideas off of one another and help refine projects, labs, and products. I can proudly say that these men are honorable and thrilled to be working with an intelligent, creative woman. Luckily, I grew up with brothers so I am not scared to ask these men questions when I don't follow. They follow suit when they are unfamiliar with concepts I present. If the relationship is not a two-way relationship, it won't work. Through robotics, I also communicated with only men on robotics projects and learned so much. Attitude and approach make a huge difference.
Just because a person (male or female) knows more about a topic than I do does not mean I am not smart. This mindset has greatly helped me continue to build relationships with all people. I am a collection of others' knowledge mixed with my own. I will continue to lead STEM efforts and will continue to lead young women and men in their STEM endeavors. I love being fem in STEM, and I hope other women feel the same.